Cover: Public Domain
Expanding Immigration Restrictions: On Monday, President Trump signed an order temporarily barring new immigrants who are on a host of employment-based visas from coming to the U.S. The president had previously signed an order in April that restricted some green cards but held off from limiting guest-worker programs. The latest order extends the measure further, however, by pausing new H-1B tech worker visas, H-2B seasonal worker visas, certain J work and education exchange visitor visas, and L executive transfer visas. The restrictions are set to take effect today and last through the end of the year. Health care workers assisting with the fight against COVID-19 will be exempt as will some people who were in the original green card order, including members of the U.S. military. The order also does not affect the H-2A agricultural guest-worker program. The administration estimates the order will affect around 600,000 jobs before December 31. Here’s what both sides are saying:
On the Right: According to the White House press release, “many workers have been hurt through no fault of their own due to coronavirus and they should not remain on the sidelines while being replaced by new foreign labor.” The order is meant “to ensure American workers take first priority as we recover from the economic effects of the coronavirus… [and] polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans support pausing immigration as we recover as a Nation from the coronavirus pandemic.” The White House Press release points to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll which found that 65% of those who participated in the survey support pausing immigration into the country, including 61% of minority respondents. A Pew Research Center poll also found that 81% of Americans see mass immigration as a threat while we confront the challenges posed by the coronavirus. The White House also points out that “Democrats and liberal commentators used to support such commonsense efforts to protect American jobs,” They provide quotes from prominent names on the left including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said, “You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those [American] kids?” Additionally, Paul Krugman stated that “Immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand.” Lastly, then-Sen. Barack Obama warned that mass migration “threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”
On the Left: In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Jon Healey writes that, “there is evidence that worker visas, and particularly the H-1B program, have enabled some employers to replace higher-wage U.S. workers with cheaper foreign labor. That’s particularly true as companies have switched from having in-house tech support teams to tech service contractors, many of which rely on foreign workers.” However, Healy says that, “Recessions invariably displace workers whose skills fall out of demand. And one thing this country doesn’t seem to be very good at is retraining people to keep pace with those changes. In the meantime, though, it won’t help the U.S. economy recover if businesses that are trying to reopen or expand can’t do so because they can’t find the workers they need.” Tech firms specifically, who rely heavily on H-1B visas, are not happy with the President’s directive. Outlined in a clip from 2017, Businessman Mark Cuban told FOX News host Tucker Carlson that “importing American labor makes America stronger.” While Cuban thinks the hoarding of H1-B visas by certain companies is a problem that needs to be fixed, he also says that the program has allowed American firms to stay competitive globally by getting the most qualified workers for their company. To that end, as David Meyer points out for Fortune, “For the past three decades, the U.S. has been listed as one of the world’s top five most competitive economies, in rankings produced by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Switzerland. Just two years ago, the U.S. topped the list.” However, “those days are over, at least for now.” In the 31st edition of the ranking, released last Tuesday, the U.S. had fallen to 10th place, just behind the United Arab Emirates. Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn summarized this on Twitter saying, “Imagine if Real Madrid or Barcelona could only hire players from Spain. They probably wouldn’t be the best in the world anymore. This is what the new executive orders will do to American technology companies.”
Flag This: Something that gets overlooked in the H1-B debate is the fact that the problem originates before visa-applicants enter the workforce. In a lot of cases, foreign students come to the United States for four years of college. We train them at our top universities, they make friends and connections, and a good portion of them go on to get jobs at firms like Google or Goldman Sachs in cities like San Francisco and New York. Then, a year after they get settled, the U.S. kicks them out because their H1-B Visas expire. Keep in mind, these students, now young-professionals, were paying some of the highest taxes in the country, spending money in their cities, and investing in the United States by way of time, effort, and capital. Shipping them off to cities like London, Hong Kong, or Geneva ultimately becomes a net-loss after so much has been invested in these people. In fact, it makes those other cities more competitive as evidenced by the IMD list above. That said, if this is such a problem, it needs to be addressed well before H1-B candidates enter the workforce. Maybe colleges need to think about how many foreign applicants they accept and whether or not they’re taking the place of American students. In the President’s perfect world, by limiting H1-B visas, a foreign candidate will be restricted from a domestic position, which ideally opens it up to an American. However, if not enough Americans received the requisite training and education, because colleges prioritized foreign applicants in their admissions process then there will be less qualified candidates to fill the empty spot. This will slow hiring, slow productivity, decrease global competitiveness, and ultimately weigh on the country. It’s not that the issue shouldn’t be addressed, it’s just that currently we’re not targeting the correct source of the problem.